WHEN doing the form for the Melbourne Cup, it is difficult to look away from the two wonderful horses that sit up top.
Dunaden and Americain have won the past two Cups and thoroughly deserve to be favourites. But in the fine print of the conditions for the Cup is the word ''handicap'', and that spells danger for the French pair.
Melbourne Cup preview and tips
Our racing experts preview the 2012 Melbourne Cup at Flemington.
In Australia, handicaps such as the spring's big cups and the Epsom and Doncaster handicaps are at the forefront of our elite racing. That is not the case in most other parts of the world, where weight-for-age and set-weight races rule. These formats clearly favour the best horses, as they never suffer a weight penalty for a win.
Much has been made of the modern handicaps and how they compare with past years. When Think Big won his second Cup in 1975 he carried 58.5 kilograms, while the third horse that day, Medici, carried just 46kg.
Every Melbourne Cup runner
Not sure which horse to back? Our racing experts analyse all 24 contenders for the 2012 Melbourne Cup.
Dunaden has 59 kilograms, but gives away no more than 6kg to all but two of the runners, the four-year-old Zabeelionaire (52kg) and Kelinni (51kg).
But the truth behind those figures is that the spread in ability between the best and worst horses in the race has decreased dramatically in the 37 years since Think Big.
This was underlined on Saturday, when chief handicapper Greg Carpenter refused to penalise Kelinni for his win in the Lexus Stakes. That meant that a horse who was a group 2 winner three days before the Cup, and runner-up at group 1 level at his previous start in Sydney, was not considered worthy of a Cup penalty. That dispels the theory that the reduced weight spread between top and bottom favours the topweights. In 1975, that sort of form would have made Kelinni one of the favourites. He'll probably be a $25 chance today.
Dunaden and Americain are among the best to have contested the Cup. But if you trust the handicapper, they are vulnerable.
This leaves us with the possibility of a lightweight, or at least middleweight, winner. There are four who stand out and they are at juicy odds. Mourayan, a $26 hope, is a great stayer who hasn't yet been given the chance to show it in his two years in Australia. He will go forward and most, if not all, will be unable to get past him.
Godolphin's hope Cavalryman is rated about a $41 chance but is a stayer who has performed in the elite class in Europe. The handicap scale suits him.
Lights Of Heaven is a $26 chance but also impresses, as does Kelinni.